When a poor country faces challenges with food, water, sanitation, health, and other “life and death” issues, it seems counterintuitive to prioritize digital programs for development.
Recent research, however, shows that digital solutions can be both cost-effective and enabling of broader progress. A recent Tufts University report, for example, shows the importance of digitization in driving economic success.
In terms of specific countries, the Copenhagen Consensus, a Danish think tank, recently consulted with the governments of Bangladesh and Haiti about the best way to prioritize development dollars. In each case an international team of economists reviewed 70+ possible uses of development funding, ranking interventions from most effective to least.
In both cases, two “digital solutions” emerged in the top ten recommendations.
In the case of Bangladesh, one priority solution was the development of an “e-procurement” platform to lower costs and corruption around an antiquated procurement service. A second recommendation called for digitizing the land records system to bring transparency and efficiency to inefficient processes.
In the case of Haiti, recommendations included supporting the increase of internet coverage to 50% of the population (from around 4%), and digitizing tracking systems at Haiti’s largest port.
Other recommendations by the Copenhagen Consensus were more predictable — such as investing in malnutrition programs, education efforts, and power sector reform. But the inclusion of digital solutions only highlights the importance of expanding broadband to the full planet.